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Rajasthan: Ruckus Aside, It's Clear BJP MLA-Elect’s Real Beef Is With Minorities

Acharya’s outburst is just an extension of his numerous shocking statements to polarise voters during his campaign.

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In recent years, India has seen mounting majoritarianism and a rising tide of hate and violence on religious lines. As polarising politics sharpens, minorities now face ceaseless attacks.

Not surprisingly, within hours of the Saffron brigade regaining power in Rajasthan, a newly-elected BJP MLA from Jaipur’s Hawa Mahal seat, Balmukund Acharya swung into action and raked up quite a row to shut down allegedly illegal meat shops in his area – a move that’s being seen as a not-so-subtle bid at moral policing aimed at targeting Muslims.

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BJP MLA Schools Meat Shop Owners, Police Hours After Win

In a video which went viral, the saffron-clad BJP MLA inspects meat shops in Jaipur’s Walled City area and orders a crackdown on shops selling cooked or raw meat on the streets. Acharya claims these meat-selling shops do not have licenses and are selling non-vegetarian food close to temples.

Speaking to an official on a call in front of media crews, Acharya demands, “All the non-veg stalls on the streets should vanish with immediate effect. I will take a report from you in the evening.”

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In another video, Acharya is seen at a non-vegetarian outlet, asks the owner to show his license, and accuses the outlet of illegal possession of land. At one point in the video, when a police official tries to reason with Acharya, the angry MLA shouts, "Police are trying to stop us. The administration is stopping us.” He even asserts, “Not even a single person here has a license. How will tourists come here?” And then the priest-turned-politician makes his most telling comment, “This is our Kashi, do you want to make it Karachi.”

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Islamophobia and Anti-Minority Comments

While many are shocked at his post-poll antics within hours of a narrow win by barely 900-odd votes, Acharya’s outburst is just an extension of his numerous shocking statements to polarise voters during the campaign.

Though he wasn’t even a known party leader, the BJP fielded him primarily due to his campaign for the upkeep of Hindu temples which he claimed were being damaged due to the Congress government’s 'appeasement politics’.
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All through his campaign, Acharya kept harping on temples being destroyed, idols being desecrated, Hindu girls being lured through ‘Love Jihad’, and cows being killed in order to polarise voters in Jaipur’s Walled City area where allegations of forced Hindu migration have often been made by BJP leaders.

It must be remembered that the Hawa Mahal constituency has a substantial Muslim population and is one of Jaipur’s most communally-sensitive areas.
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Muslim Votes Contributed to Acharya’s Win

Notably, even before being sworn in, Acharya’s actions amount to taking the law into his own hands, and by threatening vendors from the minority community, he virtually seems to be discriminating among people in his own constituency which reflects scant regard for the law of the land. Far from following set legal norms and procedures, the actions of the MLA-elect seem a rather brazen bid to bully and threaten street-side hawkers and enterprises run by members of the minority community.

The action of the MLA-elect is also seen as an assault on the Right to Livelihood of poor, vulnerable vendors. Under the Street Vendors (protection of livelihood and regulation of street vending) Act of 2014, there can be no discrimination based on whether the food items sold are vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

According to this Act, vending zones were supposed to be created and town vending committees were expected to provide security to street vendors. But these committees have not yet acted on the demarcations nor have they issued vending licences. With these procedures still pending, Acharya’s effort to target non-veg vendors appears a patently unfair move. No wonder, the human rights organisation, PUCL issued a statement asking Acharya “not to engage in 'direct action’ against meat sellers” and claimed his actions were an "attack on people’s food and dietary practices.”

After many sane citizens slammed his antics on social media, Acharya claimed that what he did was “not threatening” to officials or to non-veg sellers. He was specially put on the backfoot by a former BJP minority cell chief in Jaipur highlighting that Acharya had got over a thousand votes from Muslim-dominated booths which were critical for his narrow win.
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Though Acharya said “If I offended anyone, then I seek your apology,” the damage was already done.

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Mixing Politics With Religion: BJP’s Patent Poll Strategy

Despite the apology, to many in Jaipur, Acharya’s operation was reminiscent of an attack on a popular hotel owned by a Muslim businessman in 2017 on trumped-up charges of selling beef. With the BJP then ruling Rajasthan, cow vigilantes had attacked Hotel Hayat Rabbani over beef allegations in March 2017 and the hotel was seized by police and civic authorities.

Later, forensic results of the meat collected from the hotel found the beef charges to be false but despite a court ordering its reopening, the hotel remained locked for many months. In his viral video, Acharya also asserts that he has received complaints of "white meat that is cow meat being sold” by meat vendors in his area.

Moreover, Acharya’s audacious campaign seems quite in sync with the polarisation plank the BJP pursued in the recent Rajasthan election. In the campaign, BJP leaders strongly signalled Hindutva issues and attacked the 'appeasement politics’ of the Congress. While PM Modi often raised the Kanhaiya Lal beheading in Udaipur in 2022 by two Muslim zealots, all BJP leaders harped on the need to protect Sanatana Dharma from attacks by ‘Congress and its friends’.

By fielding Hindutva hardliners like Baba Balaknath and Balmukund Acharya as candidates and highlighting the construction of a grand Ram Temple in Ayodhya as a great feat, the mix of politics and religion greatly bolstered BJP’s appeal to voters.

However, it needs to be stressed that Acharya’s offensive remarks and actions are hardly an exception. Rather they reflect a trend whereby all the four saffron priests fielded by the BJP emerged victorious in the Rajasthan polls.
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The most prominent winner was Baba Balaknath, the BJP Lok Sabha MP from Alwar who defeated Congress candidate Imran Khan in the Tijara constituency – an electoral contest he called ‘an India-Pakistan match’. Often called the ‘Yogi of Rajasthan’, Balaknath used the imagery of bulldozers, closely associated with UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s governance style, all through his campaign.

Hours after winning the Tijara seat, the Baba visited Bhiwadi and asked local officials to start a crackdown against ‘criminals’. Asking the administration to get tough with anti-national elements, Balaknath asserted, "We will protect Sanatan Dharma and criminals should move out of Rajasthan. Otherwise, they will have to face bulldozers.”

While the Baba refuses to clarify his comments, the repeated talk of ‘criminals’ is said to be a euphemistic reference to the minority in his lexicon. Given his divisive rhetoric, it’s significant that the Baba is now being regarded as a major chief ministerial candidate!
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Minorities: A Perennial Target 

Far from following a normal law and order route to address their grievances, the Acharya in Jaipur and Balaknath in Alwar appear to be brow-beating officials well before they have even taken oath as MLAs. Their campaigns seem set to deepen communal fault lines and keep minorities under increasing pressure. The BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in the Rajasthan polls this time to send out an unambiguous signal of its agenda.

Beyond Modi magic, it’s polarising politics that is widely seen as a critical factor for BJP’s recent and repeated victories in the Hindi heartland. Having tasted fresh successes, the BJP seems keen to continue with its hardline approach, once considered a ‘hidden agenda’ but now pursued quite openly and vigorously to reap electoral benefits.

As vulnerable minorities get targeted invariably, the ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ claims ring rather hollow to most civilians. With the polarisation pitch likely to intensify for the Lok Sabha battle, the composite culture nurtured for centuries by saints like Moinuddin Chishti and Meerabai is bound to be severely tested in Rajasthan.

Polarising poison may enable parties to win elections but it must be remembered that every fresh call of hate deepens social fissures that may be tough to heal for centuries!

(The author is a veteran journalist and expert on Rajasthan politics. Besides serving as a Resident Editor at NDTV, he has been a Professor of Journalism at the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Muslims   Muslims in India   Islamophobia 

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